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Best Baseball Movies

America’s pastime has given Hollywood a number of hits and just as many strike-outs. Below are the best baseball films for family viewing, arranged so the highest graded ones are on top and the rest in descending order.

If you have young ones or children who aren’t total baseball nuts, your best bets might be films featuring children (The Sandlot, The Bad News Bears, The Perfect Game), or else a comedy like A League of Their Own, a culture-clash film like Million Dollar Arm, or Angels in the Outfield—a pure fantasy of the angelic sort. The angels concept is better suited to a more innocent time, meaning you should be sure to rent or buy the 1951 version rather than the 1994 Disney remake—unless your family is anti-black-and-white.

Pride of the Yankees
(1942, B&W, 128 min., Biopic, G, ) A-

Lou Gehrig was one of baseball’s most beloved heroes, and this film is as warm and engaging as Gary Cooper is as Gehrig—who will die off-camera of a disease named for him. Though black and white, it’s still an appealing film because of the Cooper-Gehrig character, a cameos by real-life baseball legend Babe Ruth, and an engaging story that blends baseball with good guy exploits, a shy guy romance, and a son’s need to keep his career secret from a mom who wanted him to be an engineer. Gehrig visiting a boy in a hospital and giving his final farewell speech at Yankee Stadium are heart-wrenching.

Field of Dreams
(1989, Color, 107 min., Drama, PG, ) A-
Based on W.P. Kinsella’s magical realist novel Shoeless Joe, this film is about an Iowa farmer (Kevin Costner) who hears a voice saying, “If you build it, he will come.” And so following in the footsteps of such mysticism Ray builds a regulation baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfields, hoping that Shoeless Joe Jackson, a long-deceased player involved in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, will return. Why? That’s all part of a story that also has Ray following a voice on a road trip to abduct a famous writer (James Earl Jones) and take him to a baseball game at Fenway Park. It’s a journey that’s mostly for adults and older children.

Moneyball
(2011, Color, 133 min., Drama, PG-13) A-
Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, who hires an assistant (Jonah Hill) to help him craft a competitive team on a shoestring budget by using a statistical method to build a team of less-than-star players who, together, on paper, at least, ought to be able to succeed. The film, which was based on a true story and shot at a number of real ballparks, earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor.

A League of Their Own
(1992, Color, 128 min., Comedy, PG) A-/B+
One of our family’s favorites stars Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Ann Cusack, and Rosie O’Donnell as players who make the roster of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was started in 1943 as a way of keeping baseball visible after most of the major league players had been drafted or enlisted to fight in WWII. The league is true, but the plot is total Hollywood . . . and totally entertaining. Tom Hanks is fun as a former star turned minor league manager after alcohol ruined his career, but it’s all about the players themselves and their interactions with each other that make this Penny Marshall-directed film a hit.

The Natural
(1984, Color, 138 min., Drama, PG) A-/B+
Like Field of Dreams, this film takes a mythic/mystical approach to baseball. Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, it tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a hot-shot prospect whose rise is cut abruptly short when he is shot by a mysterious woman. Just as mysteriously he comes back to play baseball later in life as an older man with a black bat named “Wonderboy,” made from a tree that had been struck by lightning. Robert Redford is perfectly cast as Hobbs, but this one might be for families with older children because of the crazed fan and the shooting.

The Sandlot
(1993, Color, 101 min., Comedy, PG) B+
This one feels like a kid version of The Natural. What’s not to like about a film that mythologizes baseball from a youngster’s point of view, including a monster dog that lives across the fence and collects home-run baseballs, and a Rube Goldberg attempt to retrieve a ball that was signed by Babe Ruth . . . and never should have been played with in the first place? Kids will be able to identify with at least one of the engaging young actors in this story told in retrospect by a new-kid-on-the-block with zero baseball skills who was included in neighborhood sandlot games because the best player took him under his wing. A fun double feature would begin with this film, then finish with The Pride of the Yankees. James Earl Jones appears as a former major leaguer.

42: The Jackie Robinson Story
(2013, Color, 128 min., Biopic, PG-13) B+

Just as Hidden Figures explored racism in the aeronautics industry, this film tracks the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues. Chadwick Boseman shines as Jackie Robinson, but so does Harrison Ford as baseball executive Branch Rickey, the white man who shook the major leagues by pushing integration. Robinson was a superstar and this film adequately captures both his color-barrier struggles and his rise as a legendary player.

The Rookie
(2002, Color, 127 min., Biopic, G) B+
Dennis Quaid stars as a Texas high school baseball coach who promises his players that if they make the playoffs he will follow a dream that was derailed with an arm injury and try out for a major league team. The film follows his odyssey as a 39-year-old father and old man who finds himself a rookie in training camp for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and, amazingly, discovers that not only has his arm healed, but it can now throw a baseball at close to 100 miles per hour. Based on a true story, this Disney movie covers all the bases a this second-chance, you’re-never-too-old, feel-good story.

Million Dollar Arm
(2014, Color, 124 min., Drama-Biopic, PG) B+
Another Disney entry stars Jon Hamm as a Jerry Maguire-style sports agent who struggles to land a big client and as a result comes up with the gimmick idea of holding a competition in India to find the two best, hardest-throwing cricket players to bring to America and convert to baseball pitchers. Based on a real story, it’s a great culture-clash film that focuses as much on people as it does on the game.

The Bad News Bears
(1976, Color, 102 min., Comedy-Drama, PG) B+/B
Don’t make the mistake of getting the 2005 remake or any of the sequels. This one starring Walter Matthau as a has-been alcoholic who becomes coach and Tatum O’Neal as a rule-breaking player is the only film of the group that’s worth watching. The Bears are a team made up of the worst players, and though anyone familiar with youth sports will find that believable enough, it turns out that the team was assembled because of a lawsuit. It’s the original gang-of-misfits underdog movie, but remember that the PG rating came before PG-13 was introduced. There’s drinking, smoking, and a several handsful of swearwords.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
(1976, Color, 110 min., Comedy, PG) B
This story of ex-Negro League baseball players who decide to barnstorm the U.S. with the goal of entertaining audiences (think Harlem Globetrotters) was co-produced by Motown exec Berry Gordy. It stars Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, and James Earl Jones, and like A League of Their Own it’s fiction but based on real characters and incidents—in this case, the Birmingham Barons and the most famous Negro League player, Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

Eight Men Out
(1988, Color, 119 min., Drama, PG) B
This film makes a great lead-off film for a double-header also featuring Field of Dreams, as it dramatizes the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, who went from being thought of as one of the greatest teams ever to the most reviled after a group of them were accused of throwing the World Series for gamblers. John Cusack, Charlie Sheen and David Strathairn head a talented cast that brings baseball’s most famous scandal to life. Look for legendary Chicago writer Studs Terkel as journalist Hugh Fullerton and director John Sayles as fellow sportswriter Ring Lardner.

The Perfect Game
(2009, Color, 118 min., Comedy-Drama, PG) B
With the help of a former major league clubhouse attendant (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who exaggerates his role on the team and a baseball-loving adult role model (Cheech Marin), a group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico do what it takes to compete in the World Series of Little League. They make history in the process, with a little more help from a groundskeeper (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and reporter (Emilie de Ravin). Though not a Disney movie, this engaging underdog story certainly feels like one. Jake T. Austin appears as a star pitcher who pulls a switch and recruits his coach.

Angels in the Outfield
(1951, Color, 99 min., Comedy-Fantasy, Approved) B
Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame, plays a journalist who’s writing a column blaming the Pittsburgh Pirates’ losing streak on their foul-mouthed, uncouth manager. As she does her research, he starts hearing the voice of angel telling him if he’d clean up his act, his team will win. A little orphan praying for the team starts to notice angels on the field, and darned if those angels (unseen by the rest of us) don’t help the Pirates turn their season around—though being nice turns out to be a huge strain for the manager. Would be G-rated by today’s standards, as even foul language is gibberish!

TWILIGHT GAMES (MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY)

Because this is a family site, my top two baseball movies of all time don’t even make the above list because they’re rated R and better suited for families with older teens, or for the nightcap of a double-header after the kids are in bed. The made-for-TV movie 61 also falls into that category—a great little biopic that’s rated TV-MA.

Bull Durham
(1988, Color, 108 min., Comedy-Romance, R) B+/A-
An aging catcher (Kevin Costner) suddenly finds himself competing with a younger rival (Tim Robbins) for the attentions of a baseball groupie (Susan Sarandon). An intelligent script and a perfect blend of baseball, comedy and romance make this one of the best baseball movies ever made. Most baseball movies are about the majors, but Bull Durham paints a terrific picture of minor league baseball and the grind that players go through. It’s also a double underdog story, and that makes it twice as fun.

Major League
(1989, Color, 107 min., Comedy, R) B+/A-
One of the most underrated sports movies, this laugh-out-loud comedy stars Tom Berenger as a beat-up catcher and Charlie Sheen as an ill-tempered, sight-impaired pitcher. But the entire cast is terrific, and aside from offering the quintessential underdog story. An owner’s widow assembles a team of losers so the team will finish in the basement, allowing her to move the team to a different city. When they realize their big major-league break is a single-season gig, the players decide there’s only one thing to do: win it all! Bob Uecker is hilarious playing an announcer, and there are more quotable lines in this baseball film than any other.

61
(2001, Color, 129 min., Biopic, TV-MA) B+/A-
Yankees fan Billy Crystal goes behind the camera to direct this biopic about the season when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle pushed each other in a race to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. It did for baseball what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run race later accomplished in 1998 . . . without the steroids.

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